Sunday, 28 June 2009

The Richmond Briefing

A weekly Bible reading for Bridge Builders

The Richmond Briefing has been a weekly feature of the Reachout web site for five years and is now available on the blog. To find out more and read earlier briefings go here

Reading – What Did You Expect? (Luke 7:18-23)

In Matthew’s gospel Jesus speaks of the signs of the end of the age and gives a very clear warning about wrong expectations:

“At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect – if that were possible. See I have told you ahead of time.

So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the desert,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as lightening that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” (Mt.24:23-27)

He addressed a common human problem and weakness, especially in the community of faith; a tendency to anticipate God’s purposes, work it all out beforehand and gain some degree of control and, dare I say, kudos. We see it in people who become pedantic about particular forms of church organisation and government; in those who scour the text of the Bible looking for ‘signs of the times’; in people who slavishly follow after signs and wonders, revival and refreshing, anything other than the steady and unspectacular growth in faith and understanding that is the lot of most Christians in this world.

There is nothing wrong with revival, refreshing and an understanding of the times of course and the cry of every Christian should be ‘Come Lord Jesus!” However, the work of the Lord goes on all around us in our every-day lives and not just in the so-called mountain top experiences so beloved by some. We can have a tendency to construct our own elaborate picture of what it will look like when God fulfils his promises, to say more than God has said and promise things other than what God has promised and this is what happened to John in this passage.

Like so many of his generation he had a picture of the Messiah coming, driving out the invaders and restoring the glory to Israel and the reports he received of Jesus’ work from his disciples did not fit the picture. Jesus was not exactly behaving like a liberator in the commonly understood mould and John, languishing in prison, had understandably begun to have doubts. In an ascending scale of works Jesus reminds John of the things predicted of the Messiah:

“Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor” (Lk.7:22, see Is.29:18-21; 35:5-6; 42:7; 61:1)

It is as if Jesus was saying, “Did you expect something else?” or, “What did you expect?” John had seen less than he expected while Jesus was, in truth, delivering more than anyone could imagine. The focus of Messiah’s work was people and not just abstract concepts of leadership and politics or spectacular shows of power. Jesus sent this message back to John:

“Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me”

We should take care that we don’t fall away because Jesus’ focus and work does not altogether fulfil our expectations. He is not in the desert, or in the inner room and nor does he associate with an elite; signs and wonders are no guarantee of his presence and he does not live to accommodate our misguided interpretations. But if we will look we will see him with the blind and the lame, the deaf and those who are dead because of lost hope in this world and preaching good news to the poor. Perhaps we should ask ourselves what exactly we have expected and compare it with what God has promised and Jesus has demonstrated to be God’s work and maybe we need to be with this Messiah for the common man among the people he loves most, people like you and me.

No comments: